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  • Writer's pictureDr. Neal Nybo

Micro-Action 4: Change the narrative

Welcome to another excerpt from my workbook, Workplace Positivity.

Deceiving our brains to keep a positive perspective can be a very helpful tool. We

do this by changing the narrative.

We are constantly telling ourselves stories. When someone lets the door slam in

our face or cuts us off in traffic or looks at us funny in a work meeting, we create a


We tell ourselves people are rude, they are inconsiderate, they don’t like us.

Maybe that’s true, but I doubt it. People are pretty great, but they’re also busy and

often unaware of how their actions are affecting others.

We can choose to take things personally or we can refuse to be offended by

changing the narrative. In other words, we are going to create a new, positive story

to replace the negative one swirling through our minds.

Let’s take the person who let the door slam in our face. Perhaps we are entering a

store and instead of taking half a second to hold the door, the woman just lets it go.

Is she rude? Maybe. That is one story we can tell ourselves. Or we can create a new

narrative. We can think, “I bet she just found out her company is downsizing and

she’s going to be let go.” How does that change the way we view her actions?

How about the person who cuts us off in traffic? Instead of letting thoughts of

inconsiderate drivers fuel our road rage, we can change the narrative. We can imagine

he is in a speedy fast hurry because he just found out his wife is at the hospital about

to give birth. All of a sudden, instead of flipping him off, we are cheering him on!

You go! Get your wife!

Perhaps the person in the office meeting isn’t actually frowning at you. Maybe

they are off in lala land thinking about how to discipline their teenager for missing curfew. Or maybe their face just looks like that. We can’t all be blessed with a positive


Instead of being offended by what we think their facial expression is saying, we

can choose to ignore it or rewrite what we’re telling ourselves about it. Maybe that

person is processing some tricky information and therefore furrowing their brow.

Maybe they just need us to smile a little to pull them out of their funk.

Sometimes we can ask people about their actions. When that’s the case, go for it.

Be brave and ask for clarity. Other times, we’ll have to let our imaginations do the

work and rewrite what we assume is a negative interaction by changing the narrative

in our minds.

The point is when we want to be set free of the negativity we are perceiving from

other people, we have to begin to assume the best about them. We can further the

positivity and extend grace for their cold or unkind words and actions by asking

questions or creating new stories about them in our minds. The great news is, when

we begin to give grace, we realize how often we’re also receiving it.


Social activist and filmmaker Naomi Klein is a Canadian author known for her

political analyses. She said, “Politics hates a vacuum. If it isn’t filled with hope, someone

will fill it with fear.” It turns out in life as well as politics, when confronted with a

vacuum, people will fill it with fear. Our phone rings in the middle of the night, and we fear

something terrible has happened.

Our boss calls us into her office unexpectedly, we enter fearfully. We never assume it is

for a good reason.

This is because, millions of years ago, any vacuum of knowledge would probably kill

you. There was almost nothing positive or hopeful about the darkness and unknown. The

ones who survived were the ones who feared what they didn’t know.

Fast forward to today and we end up with vacuums filled with fear. It’s in our genes.

So when someone looks at us funny in a work meeting, our inner Neanderthal doesn’t just

create a story, it creates a fearful narrative.

The thing is, we are constantly faced with information vacuums. When any event

occurs, we often don’t know what exactly happened and we almost never know why. We

are left to fill the vacuum ourselves and we almost always fill it with some form of fear.

Each example Nicole gives above bears this out. So, her advice to change the narrative

is a powerful game-changer. The point is not to always have to find out what exactly

happened and why. The idea is to take the details we have and come up with a positive

story. Go against millions of years of evolution and think a hopeful thought instead of a

fearful one.

Can you think of someone who would benefit from this article?

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